Friday, January 6, 2017

The Mind Benders

The Mind Benders (aka Invasion of the Mindbenders aka Alien High)
Genie Joseph

For some reason the August of 1985 produced an unrelated trilogy of ‘teen science comedies.’ Weird Science (1985), was the most high profile of these films that featured wacky teenagers engaging in equally wacky science projects, it was followed by My Science Project (1985), and Real Genius (1985). There was a brief cultural fascination with science being ‘cool’ that western culture wouldn’t really see again until the 2000s and the rise of the nerd as a cultural icon. The direct to video industry, at its height, was never one to let a good premise die, even years past its expiration date, and so The Mind Benders was born.

Crash (Lee Tergesen) and his pal Frankie (Skip Lackey) are two doofuses who engage in food fights, listen to their Walkmans in class, and are generally directionless party animals. The two host a show on the radio school station along with sweater wearing dork, Calvin (David Kener).  Principal Borden (Roy Thinnes) feels that his school has become uncontrollable and enlists the aid of Dr. Gunbow (Bill Curry) from the Behavior Modification Research Institute. Dr. Gunbow’s solution is to pipe in hypnotic messages into a classroom and make the students more obedient. The principle’s meddling with the system turns the student body violent and only Crash and Frankie have the answer to break the hypnosis… rock and roll.

Our "heroes."
The box art makes this film look like it will a serious SF drama about hypnotized teens along the lines of Disturbing Behavior (1998), but in actuality it’s a an airy goofball comedy. The privileged whiny rich-boy antics of Crash and Frankie, might have played well in 1987, but now they feel a bit grating. You can make rules breaking class clowns into compelling heroes by placing them up against unyielding and overreaching authority figures. Here we are only given Principle Borden, who is a militaristic foil for the boys, and those scenes work. It’s when they act like jerks to normal teachers who are just doing a normal job they come off as creeps, and no scenes of a broken home life, or shirtless moping in the window will fix that.

A typical Canadian.
The central mind control plot is thin, but it is engaging enough. The script takes a too long getting around to this element, but once it gets going there are some surprising moments, especially once things turn violent. The fighting isn’t that brutal, but it is not played for laughs either. I was even impressed by a hair on fire stunt that was well executed and ambitious for such a low budget production. The whole thing culminates in an ending that is as bizarre as it is rushed . It’s easily the most memorable thing about the whole production, and the movie could certainly have used a few more moments like it. (Hint: One of the alternate titles totally gives it away)

The Mind Benders is a mediocre comedy, and a razor thin science-fiction story, but as a weird capsule of 1987 VHS ephemera it manages some limited appeal. Approach with caution.

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